The Jewish Spirit Journal
A Journal of Jewish Mysticism and Spirituality
Vol. 1, No. 1 Dec. 1998

SPARKS OF INSIGHT

Reverence for the Name

During the synagogue prayer service, when the prayer-leader says God's name, we are often required to respond, Baruch hu uvaruch shemo, Blessed is He and blessed is His name. We should cultivate not only our love and reverence for God, but for His name. One way to do that is, when we hear God's name, to express our reverence by this response. The benefit this causes is that, by increasing our devotion to God's Name, we increase its effect on our soul when we hear it or utter it. God's name is close to Him, it is infused with His Being. By devotion, we can go from the Name to the One Named.

Blessing God for the Bad

The Rabbis teach that we are to thank and bless God for the bad that happens to us, just as we are to bless Him for the good. The goal is to realize in our actual experience that everything that happens to us comes from God and, since God is good and only does good, everything that happens to us, including the "bad" is really good.

Many people find this difficult to accept. I often half-jokingly say that this is "Judaism 201." Judaism 101 is to believe and get it into your bones to thank God for the good in your life. When you've accomplished that, you can go on to the more difficult task to believe that the bad is also good.

But the matter is even deeper than this. If we want to believe and ultimately experience that God does everything for good, we must not even thank God in our "usual" way for the good that happens to us. When something good happens -- we get the job, we find the apartment we were looking for, and so on -- we must be happy not simply for the good, but that this is coming to us from God. We must see not only the deeper aspect of "bad" (which is good) but the deeper aspect of "good." We have to tune in to the good of our soul, which is to be close to God, not to the selfish good of our ego and body.

We have to get away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and cling to the Tree of Life, the vision of oneness: Whether what happens is good or bad, our focus must be to see that it is from God and brings us near to Him and that it is good on a deeper level. God is all good and any suffering He brings on us is only for good ends. What we call "good" from this mystic view is not the usual "good"; that is the reason that what seems bad can be said to be good. Similarly, we must appreciate good on a deeper level, to relate to it not on the egotistic level of "It's good for me," but on the deeper soul level of: "This is from God and brings me close to Him."

Like a Craftsman

Years ago I heard Professor David Flusser at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem mention that a craftsman is not concerned with theory or intellectual speculation but with getting the job done. That comment impressed me and I've often used it as a parable applied to spirituality: that we must be like a craftsman, so that our main interest is not theory, but getting the job done, where the job is to somehow get close to God.

In Proverbs 8:30, Wisdom (Torah) says: ehiyeh aytzlo amon, "I was with Him as an amon." The latter Hebrew word is often translated as "nursling" or "little child," but an alternative translation is "craftsman" (more usually uman). A published talk by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, in which he quotes this verse from Proverbs, translates it as: "I am with Him as a craftsman" (Sichot in English, vol.4, p.31). (The Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates: "master workman.")

The Rabbis say about this verse that God looked in the Torah (the blueprint) and then created the world. God's Wisdom is not only theoretical but practical -- to get the job done; His "job" is to create and rule the world. Our Torah wisdom also should be not merely theoretical but "craftsman-knowledge." Our job is to get close to God.

An aside: The first Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shneur Zalman of Liadi, teaches in the Tanya (Chapter 42) that the word "craftsman," uman, which has a root meaning of "training," is related to the word "faith" emunah. He says that one must train oneself to have the palpable faith that this physical world and everything in it are the "garments" of the King, so to speak. When you look at the King clothed, you are still looking at the King; when you look at the world you should realize that you are seeing God!

Female Angels

People have traditionally tended to think of angels only as males. I suspect that many of us make that mistake. But Yalkut Hadash (Malachim, 63 and 93) says: "Concerning angels, it is appropriate to distinguish between male and female," and: "The angels that serve the Holy One, blessed be He, are called bahurim, young men, while those that serve the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, are called betulot, maidens."

It seems that because the Holy One, blessed be He, is "male," His agents, His angels, are also "male." And because the Shechinah is "female," so too are Her angels. Of course, we are not here talking about physical characteristics! "Male" and "female" are metaphors for spiritual characteristics. But this teaching is fascinating and should set us thinking: What are the differences between male and female angels? What are their different roles? Why do we tend to think of the well-known angels, such as the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Rafael and Uriel as "male"? Are perhaps some of them "female"? Why does Yalkut Hadash refer to all these angels as youths -- young men and maidens? Perhaps because, as Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav teaches, we should always be young in the service of God.

"The worst present is better than the best future."

(Rabbi Yosef Zissel Horowitz-- a Musar teacher)

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Copyright 2004-2005, Yitzhak Buxbaum. All rights reserved.